24 August 2009

Going to Bat for Lady Chatte

Six months ago, I criticized the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee for, amongst other things, its failure to recognize F.R. Scott's defence of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Today, a friend forwards an email, issued on behalf of the Committee last Friday. "Fifty years ago," it begins, "the distinguished lawyer F.R. Scott successfully defended Lady Chatterley's Lover (a novel by D.H. Lawrence) in a Canadian court against a charge of sexual obscenity. Thanks to Scott, Canadians may read this classic of modern literature without suffering any interference from the Canadian state."

Very good.

If only it were true.

Fifty years ago, the event that sparked the court case – the 5 November 1959 police seizure of the novel from Montreal newsstands – had not yet taken place. What's more, the resulting trial, held at the Quebec Superior Court on 12 April 1960, resulted in defeat. Scott's successful appeal "in a Canadian court" – known as the Supreme Court of Canada – took place two years later.

The email's author, a researcher for the Freedom of Expression Committee, ends with these words: "this important legal victory is poorly documented by the historians of literary freedom in Canada. I can't find a decent book about it anywhere. And, to the best of my knowledge, no one has noticed the fiftieth anniversary either."

I share in the frustration. The case demands a good book, perhaps something along the lines of C.H. Rolph's The Trial of Lady Chatterley, which documented Britain's battle over the novel. As for recognizing the fiftieth, I'll open a bottle and toast Scott and his good work on 15 March 2012.

The Committee's email is obviously the result of a botched job, and would hardly be worth mention were it not typical of the inaccurate and incomplete information the body distributes each year in its "Challenged Books and Magazines List". Here's hoping it does further research into Scott and Lady Chatte before next Freedom to Read Week.

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